- Paula Rego
- Looking Out
- pastel on paper laid down on aluminium
- 179 by 129.5cm.; 70 1/2 by 51in.
- Executed in 1997.
Ivor Braka, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1998
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia; and Washington, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Paula Rego, 2007, p. 164, illustrated in colour
Published in 1876 to great controversy and banned until only fairly recently for its anti-clerical nature, O Crime do Padre Amaro was the first and most personal novel by the great Eça de Queirós. A tale of provincial claustrophobia, corruption of the clergy and society’s oppressive attitude towards women, O Crime do Padre Amaro represents something of a Portuguese Madame Bovary. It tells the story of a young man Amaro Vieira who, struggling to find a true vocation, is pushed into priesthood, landing a job in a small cathedral town of Leiria. Here he finds board with a widow and her comely daughter Amelia, whose affections he soon wins. Although already engaged to another man, João Eduardo, the pair start on a clandestine affair, which results in Amelia falling pregnant. Disastrous for our heroine, Amelia is forced to isolate herself in the countryside to have the child in secret and to avoid bringing further shame upon her family. Tragically both mother and child die in childbirth and at the end of the novel Amaro is left just as he was when we first met him: completely alone. Speaking of her decision to depict O Crime do Padre, Rego expands: “I chose a very Portuguese novel because I felt I needed a social activity rather than the stuff you find in folk tales. The Sin of Father Amaro is critical of society, very well observed and delicious to read, but above all it is a love story, I am always immensely moved by it. My father greatly admired this book at the time when it was still banned. These pictures are a homage to him” (Paula Rego quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Paula Rego, 1998, n.p.).
Looking Out is the first painting where we meet our protagonist Amelia. Posed for by Rego’s collaborator Lila Nunes, here Amelia is depicted alone, wistfully looking out of a small window with her hand pressed to her cheek, confined by the claustrophobic grey walls of the room. She is a timeless image of frustration, entrapment, a woman seeking deliverance. As is characteristic of Rego’s approach to storytelling, Looking Out does not illustrate a specific scene in the novel, rather it could be Amelia at several points: in the present work Rego presents her constant condition. Perhaps it is a scene early on where she is lovingly looking out of her window for Amaro to rescue her from the confines of bourgeois life, or we may find ourselves later on in the story where she is desperately searching for her former fiancé so she may escape her fate of shame and ultimately death that awaits her. True to the spirit of O Crime do Padre Amaro, where Amelia's clothes feed Amaro's repressed desires, in Looking Out Amelia’s lavishly applied garments have been meticulously wrought in small, tense hatchings with satin and lace bustling together and so adding to the overwhelming sense of provincial suffocation that suffuses both painting and novel. Inhabiting an eerie world that is charged with a brooding air and heady eroticism, Looking Out is Rego at her very finest. It is the perfect exploration of love, lust and womanhood that is not only the life fuel of Eça’s O Crime do Padre but Rego’s oeuvre as a wider whole.